Charles Schleien, senior vice president at Cohen Children’s Medical Center & Pediatric Services, spoke about the rise in RSV among children and the increase in hospitalizations.  Credit: Danielle Silverman

A surge of young patients with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and influenza has forced Long Island’s two children’s hospitals to add beds to meet the growing need, officials said Tuesday.

“We are running well over capacity,” said Dr. Charles Schleien, chair of pediatric services at Northwell Health.

He noted both the hospital and emergency department at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park are “incredibly crowded” — a scenario seen at children’s hospitals across the United States. More than 75 beds have been added to handle the increase in pediatric patients.

In addition, the hospital’s 37-bed intensive care unit has been operating at 15% to 20% above capacity, doctors said Tuesday at a news conference at Northwell's New Hyde Park corporate offices.

Schleien added that the hospital is “able to take care of all the patients that come to the hospital that need hospitalization."

Officials at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital said in a statement it has been operating at “full capacity at our hospital and outpatient facilities in order to care for all pediatric patients who walk through our doors.”

"Similar to many health care systems across the region and country, we continue to see a substantial volume of respiratory illnesses in children, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other respiratory viruses," the statement read.

The hospital has used “surge spaces” and expanded to other areas of the facility.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that most children have typically had by the time they are 2 years old, experts said. But several years of COVID-19 protocols — such as masking and social distancing — have decreased or eliminated exposure to other viruses.

While most children who get RSV will experience mild to moderate cold symptoms, it can cause severe illness in very young infants and kids with asthma and other chronic health problems, doctors said.

New York State Health Department Commissioner Mary Bassett has made several public warnings about a "tripledemic" of RSV, flu and COVID-19. Agency officials said they did not have any current statistics outlining pediatric hospital admissions. They advised New Yorkers to get their flu and COVID-19 vaccinations and take other precautions.

The volume of patients coming to the emergency department at Cohen’s is up about 44% when compared to the pre-pandemic time period of October and November 2019 said Dr. Matthew Harris, a pediatric emergency room physician. He said about 300 children a day are coming to the emergency room and the number of kids who need to be admitted to the hospital is up 49%.

The majority of those children have RSV, followed by the flu. COVID-19 is a distant third, officials said.

Harris emphasized that only children experiencing the most serious symptoms, such as trouble breathing and refusing to take fluids, should be seen at the emergency room. Parents who have a concern about children with more mild symptoms should call their pediatricians for advice.

In the most serious cases of RSV and flu, children with breathing problems need oxygen and other treatments, said Dr. James Schneider, chief of pediatric critical care at Cohen’s. Many also need to be treated for dehydration.

“For some patients, it’s only a few days but some can be in for weeks,” he said.

One of those patients who spent almost a week in the ICU was Ella Rosa Ghiam, 3-1/2, of Great Neck, who sat with her parents, next to Schneider, at the news conference.

Ella initially tested negative for RSV, but after having a high fever and refusing to eat or drink, she was taken to the hospital by her mother. She later tested positive for the disease.

Her mother, Anita Binayi-Ghiam, praised the hospital staff but said watching her daughter struggle with a breathing mask for five days was “nothing short of hell.” The youngster was released from the hospital on Nov. 5 and has been recovering at home.

“This was a wonderful gift for us to receive just before Thanksgiving,” said Ella’s father, Armin Ghiam.

Schleien, Harris and Schneider all agreed that when it comes to RSV, parents should focus more on the symptoms than testing. And emergency room visits should be reserved for children who need them most, they said.

As flu season continues to ramp up, hospital resources could be further tested.

“Flu is on the rise,” Schleien said, pointing out RSV is “still going strong.”

“The question is going to be what happens this flu season,” he said.

A surge of young patients with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and influenza has forced Long Island’s two children’s hospitals to add beds to meet the growing need, officials said Tuesday.

“We are running well over capacity,” said Dr. Charles Schleien, chair of pediatric services at Northwell Health.

He noted both the hospital and emergency department at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park are “incredibly crowded” — a scenario seen at children’s hospitals across the United States. More than 75 beds have been added to handle the increase in pediatric patients.

In addition, the hospital’s 37-bed intensive care unit has been operating at 15% to 20% above capacity, doctors said Tuesday at a news conference at Northwell's New Hyde Park corporate offices.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Two large children’s hospitals on Long Island said they are operating beyond capacity due to an increase in children hospitalized with respiratory viruses, mainly RSV and influenza. 
  • Officials at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park said about 300 children a day are coming to the emergency room and the number of kids who need to be admitted to the hospital is up 49%. 
  • Both Cohen’s and Stony Brook Children’s Hospital have added beds to handle the extra volume of young patients but said the increase has not impacted services. 

Schleien added that the hospital is “able to take care of all the patients that come to the hospital that need hospitalization."

Officials at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital said in a statement it has been operating at “full capacity at our hospital and outpatient facilities in order to care for all pediatric patients who walk through our doors.”

"Similar to many health care systems across the region and country, we continue to see a substantial volume of respiratory illnesses in children, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other respiratory viruses," the statement read.

The hospital has used “surge spaces” and expanded to other areas of the facility.

RSV is a common respiratory virus that most children have typically had by the time they are 2 years old, experts said. But several years of COVID-19 protocols — such as masking and social distancing — have decreased or eliminated exposure to other viruses.

While most children who get RSV will experience mild to moderate cold symptoms, it can cause severe illness in very young infants and kids with asthma and other chronic health problems, doctors said.

New York State Health Department Commissioner Mary Bassett has made several public warnings about a "tripledemic" of RSV, flu and COVID-19. Agency officials said they did not have any current statistics outlining pediatric hospital admissions. They advised New Yorkers to get their flu and COVID-19 vaccinations and take other precautions.

The volume of patients coming to the emergency department at Cohen’s is up about 44% when compared to the pre-pandemic time period of October and November 2019 said Dr. Matthew Harris, a pediatric emergency room physician. He said about 300 children a day are coming to the emergency room and the number of kids who need to be admitted to the hospital is up 49%.

The majority of those children have RSV, followed by the flu. COVID-19 is a distant third, officials said.

Harris emphasized that only children experiencing the most serious symptoms, such as trouble breathing and refusing to take fluids, should be seen at the emergency room. Parents who have a concern about children with more mild symptoms should call their pediatricians for advice.

In the most serious cases of RSV and flu, children with breathing problems need oxygen and other treatments, said Dr. James Schneider, chief of pediatric critical care at Cohen’s. Many also need to be treated for dehydration.

“For some patients, it’s only a few days but some can be in for weeks,” he said.

One of those patients who spent almost a week in the ICU was Ella Rosa Ghiam, 3-1/2, of Great Neck, who sat with her parents, next to Schneider, at the news conference.

Ella initially tested negative for RSV, but after having a high fever and refusing to eat or drink, she was taken to the hospital by her mother. She later tested positive for the disease.

Her mother, Anita Binayi-Ghiam, praised the hospital staff but said watching her daughter struggle with a breathing mask for five days was “nothing short of hell.” The youngster was released from the hospital on Nov. 5 and has been recovering at home.

“This was a wonderful gift for us to receive just before Thanksgiving,” said Ella’s father, Armin Ghiam.

Schleien, Harris and Schneider all agreed that when it comes to RSV, parents should focus more on the symptoms than testing. And emergency room visits should be reserved for children who need them most, they said.

As flu season continues to ramp up, hospital resources could be further tested.

“Flu is on the rise,” Schleien said, pointing out RSV is “still going strong.”

“The question is going to be what happens this flu season,” he said.

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